- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

Pragmatic decision’

India rejected foreign aid to help with the tsunami disaster because its own relief agencies were capable of rescuing, feeding and clothing the victims, said Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen.

Mr. Sen said his government had made a “pragmatic decision” based on past experience with natural disasters. However, the decision met with international criticism.

“There was initial incomprehension and even righteous indignation about what was perceived to be an arrogant and insensitive decision by our government to decline intergovernmental or international assistance in coping with the immediate aftermath of the natural disaster,” the ambassador wrote in the Indian Embassy’s “India Review” magazine.

The Indian government’s past experiences with natural disasters had showed that “around 90 to 95 percent of relief and rehabilitation work … was carried out with Indian expertise and resources,” he said.

Also, India has been overwhelmed in the past with foreign relief donations that officials could not distribute.

Indian citizens also contributed generously to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, raising $120 million in three weeks.

Mr. Sen added that India wanted to avoid being overrun by foreign relief workers, especially in the hard-hit Nicobar Islands, home to an ancient tribal people.

“We did not want well-meaning foreign or Indian [nongovernmental organizations] to rush to the Nicobar Islands, which are home to declining and vulnerable tribes whose ways of life have remained unchanged for centuries and millennia, and for whom such humanitarian intrusions could possibly be as traumatic as the tsunami itself,” Mr. Sen said.

India, which lost about 16,000 people to the Dec. 26 tidal wave that ravaged the coasts of a dozen countries, believed that other nations needed more help.

“We remain convinced that the immediate needs of our neighbors, particularly Indonesia and Sri Lanka, were greater than ours,” the ambassador said.

While dealing with its own disaster, India dispatched assistance to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Fourteen Indian naval vessels and 1,700 Indian relief workers “maintained a continuous flow of assistance to these countries,” he said.

“I know of no precedent of a country that, while coping on its own with a massive natural disaster, has extended timely and significant assistance to its neighboring countries,” Mr. Sen said.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did agree last month to accept some financial assistance from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Diplomatic traffic

Visitors in Washington this week include:


• Commissioner Juan Pablo Guerrero of Mexico’s Federal Institute for Access to Public Information, who discusses access to information in Mexico at a forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

• Carlos Cavalcanti, deputy general director for international affairs and foreign trade at the Federation of the Industries of the State of Sao Paulo, Brazil. He discusses U.S.-Brazilian trade with guests at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

• Paul Goble of the EuroCollege at the University of Tartu in Estonia, who discusses religious freedom in Russia at a forum sponsored by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.


• Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern


• Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca, first vice president of the European Parliament, who addresses the American Council on Capital Formation.


• Chin Dong-soo, deputy minister for international affairs at South Korea’s Ministry of Finance and Economy. He addresses the Korea Society on the challenges facing the Korean economy this year.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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